It’s true this summer is turning out a little differently than we’d hoped, but that’s no reason not to have some fun. Regardless of whether you’re playing it safe, roaming freely or feeling someplace in between we’ve found some exciting activities to offer a much-needed change of scenery.
After months of staying at home, you’re probably familiar with every tree in your neighborhood and looking for a break from your new culinary hobbies. For months now, your only escape has been a trip to the grocery store.
It’s time for an escape you can truly enjoy. With businesses, restaurants and parks reopened and stay-at-home orders lifted, we can finally get outside and enjoy a change of scenery – even if we’re compelled to keep our distance from others.
To help you make this a summer to remember, we’ve searched our great region and found several destinations that will allow you and your family to have fun while playing it safe. Some are close to home, while others are just far enough to take a day (or two) away. It’s all up to you how you’ll make an adventure to remember.
McHenry Outdoor Theater, McHenry
Enjoy a set of movies from the comfort of your car at one of the only outdoor theaters in Chicagoland.
Top-of-the-line sound and projection equipment display a double-feature on an oversized screen at this classic drive-in movie theater. Tune in your car radio to 89.9 FM and you’ll hear the film crystal-clear.
The concession stand is still closed, but staff members are offering some snacks in the meanwhile. It provides a major financial boost to this seasonal attraction.
Since Hollywood remains shut down, expect to see plenty of classic crowd-pleasers this summer. Movie releases are constantly changing, so be sure to follow the schedule on Facebook and Instagram.
The theater is open daily through mid-August; purchase tickets at the gate.
Elgin Walks, Elgin
This self-guided tour takes you inside five historic neighborhoods surrounding downtown Elgin: Gifford Park, North East, Watch Factory District, Near West and South West. Each has its own charm and attractions, ranging from historic homes to interesting landmarks.
In the Gifford Park neighborhood west of downtown, stop by the imposing Alfred B. Church Home, at 364 Division St. It was built in 1887 by Church, who was a real estate developer and the stepson of Gail Borden, an American innovator and the namesake of Elgin’s public library.
Just down the street, the ornate John Newman home, at 321 Division St., was built in 1889 for a founder of the Elgin Board of Trade.
Share pictures of your walk on social media using #Elginwalks.
Troll Hunt at Morton Arboretum, Lisle
The hunt is on for six larger-than-life trolls created from reclaimed wood. These trolls, ranging in size from 15 to 60 feet, harken back to old European folklore. These wooden creatures stand guard over the natural beauty that surrounds them.
The trolls adore the Arboretum’s collection of trees, but they’re suspicious of people. Join the investigation and help the trolls understand humans – and vice versa.
Make sure to grab a Troll Hunter’s handbook at the visitors center, on your way in. It’s full of helpful clues to help you find each troll’s hideaway.
Pottawatomie Golf Course, St. Charles
This challenging course is staged in a beautiful, picturesque setting north of downtown St. Charles. It’s just nine holes and a par of 35, but this public course is full of surprises.
Four holes can easily throw you off your game, as you’ll be playing right along the banks of the Fox River. Wide, tree-lined fairways, with the river serving as a backdrop, distinguish this 81-year-old course.
While you’re hitting the links, be on the lookout for a distinctive wooden sculpture. It’s made from a dying, 150-year-old white oak tree that overlooks the practice green. A golf bag and native wildlife can be found on the sculpture.
Central Geneva Historic District, Geneva
If you’ve ever shopped along Third and State streets downtown, you’ll notice the incredible variety of buildings filled with unique, homegrown businesses. Many of these buildings, in fact, bear plaques marking their historical and architectural significance.
One of the most interesting landmarks here is the massive, ornate St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, built in 1868 in a Gothic Revival architectural style. A few blocks to the north is the Unitatian Universalist Society of Geneva, which dates back to 1842 and is the oldest Unitarian church east of the Mississippi River.
Hard to miss on your journey is the Kane County Courthouse, where there’s a monument dedicated to all of America’s war veterans.
Chain O’ Lakes, Northern McHenry/Lake Counties
This system of 15 lakes and 45 miles of river accompanies the Fox River on its journey from Wisconsin into Illinois. It flows through several cities, including Antioch, Fox Lake and McHenry.
In total, the Chain O’ Lakes encompasses some 7,000 acres of water.
This water playground has long been a favorite for boating, fishing, kayaking and lake life. Because these lakes are interconnected, they’re easy to navigate.
Plan ahead, as some lakes have restrictions on boat size.
If boating isn’t your thing, grab a meal to-go at one of downtown McHenry’s many establishments and enjoy a picnic at Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Spring Grove, where you’ll find seven picnic areas and 6 miles of biking and hiking trails.
Stage Coach Trail, Galena
Take a relaxing journey on an historic trail that traces its roots to our area’s early settlers. The closer you get to Galena, the more you’ll find flat Illinois fields give way to stunning, rolling hills topped with farmhouses and barns that trace back to the 1850s.
Starting in Lena, Ill., The Stage Coach Trail passes through small, quaint villages – including Apple River and Scales Mound – that are well off the beaten path. This winding, two-lane road is a joy when traveling in a flashy, top-down sports car or a speedy and nimble motorcycle.
The trail ends at Main Street in Galena, another destination seemingly frozen in time. Get lost in chic shops filled with antiques, crafts, art galleries and plenty of unique dining options.
A Tour of Geneva Lake
Witness the allure of the Lake Geneva area as you travel a 26-mile lakefront path that winds through the lawns of historic estates, marinas, beaches and public parks. The terrain and the surface – grass, dirt, brick, concrete – vary with each property.
The best place to start your journey is at the Lake Geneva Library, in the northeast corner of the lake, and travel in either direction for about a mile. This portion of the path is paved, so it’s perfect for young children and those who are less sure-footed.
If you’d rather explore the lake from the water, the Lake Geneva Cruise Line has resumed its famous boat tours that share fascinating details of the area’s historic properties. Ice cream socials and cocktail cruises also provide exciting entertainment.
The boats are operating at 50 percent capacity this summer and have pod seating, which allows families to sit together.
Golfing at Grand Geneva, Lake Geneva
This luxurious resort is home to two golf courses, making it the perfect place for a weekend filled with golf. Of course, there are activities in and around the resort for non-golfers, too.
The Brute Golf Course is considered one of the top courses in the Midwest, complete with large sand traps and striking water features. The second course, The Highlands, is a Scottish link-style course with wide-open fairways and fast greens.
Make for a unique experience this summer and try out the GolfBoard. This electric-powered vehicle resembles a scooter or skateboard and has a built-in bag holder. It travels easier than a cart and helps golfers to play at a faster pace.
Mount Horeb Trollway, Mount Horeb
This small, quaint town west of Madison is known as the troll capital of the world, and the locals fully embrace that title.
There are more than 30 carved trolls scattered around town. Most are shaggy and might look frightening, but they don’t mean any harm. You’ll find them doing everything from watering flowers to playing music.
There’s a troll outside of Farmers Savings Bank that proudly greets visitors. There’s another right outside Culver’s – enjoying a cone of custard, of course.
No matter what part of town you visit, be on the lookout for these fun-loving creatures.
New Glarus Woods State Park, New Glarus
This 435-acre park has 8 miles of hiking trails and more than 5 miles of nature trails.
Traveling through forests and restored prairies, among gently rolling terrain, you’ll spy wildlife including deer, squirrels, turkeys and woodpeckers.
The Vista Trail provides a beautiful view of nearby New Glarus, a popular tourist attraction known for its Swiss-inspired charm. The Bison Nature Trail is less than a mile long and includes interpretive signs as well as a replica, life-sized bison.
If you’re into camping, this state park has 18 drive-in campsites for recreational vehicles and 14 tenting sites. Restrooms, a playground and plenty of picnic tables are also available.
Firewood is purchased on site.
The Badger State Trail, Madison to Illinois State Line
This adventurous bike trail runs 40 miles between Madison, Wis., and the Illinois state line. Along the route, you’ll see farmland, woods and rolling hills, in addition to many small towns that popped up when this trail was a busy railroad line.
The highlight is Stewart Tunnel, where the trail curves as it passes underground. As you enter, you won’t be able to see the other end – 1,200 feet away. The tunnel is currently closed, but when it re-opens, it’ll be worth the wait.
The Badger State Trail connects to the Capital City, Military Ridge and Sugar River trails in Wisconsin. As it enters Illinois, it becomes the Jane Addams Trail and leads to Freeport. Watch out for detours around several construction sites this year.
The Kenosha Sculpture Walk, Kenosha
Along the shores of Lake Michigan a dozen fascinating works of art make for an enjoyable exploration.
Most of the attractions on this sculpture walk are in Harbor Park, along the promenade on the park’s south side. Other sculptures can be found across the channel near the lighthouse, and other sites.
The sculptures are created by artists from around the Midwest. One created a memorial that honors Vietnam veterans, while another celebrated wildlife by depicting a large moose. Another created “flames” that seem to billow in the sky.
Every two years, a new crop of artists showcases their talents.
A Getaway to Holland
Scenic beaches and exciting tourist attractions make Holland a beloved destination for summer vacationers. The busy downtown area has received plenty of national accolades for its generous combination of local businesses, dining options and lively activities.
Enjoy a paddlewheel riverboat cruise on The Holland Princess, or take a load off and enjoy dinner along the shores of Lake Michigan as you watch the sunset.
One of the biggest tourist attractions is Big Red, a popular lighthouse situated in the heart of Holland State Park. Take a walk up to the north pier if you want a great view of the lighthouse.